Taxi companies operating in Riverhead could see hikes in permit fees as town officials consider increasing them for the first time since 2012.
According to current town code, companies must obtain an owner’s permit for $500, as well as an operator’s permit and a vehicle permit for $100 each. Those fees were approved by the Town Board in December 2011 and took effect the following month, according to deputy town attorney Erik Howard, who discussed the proposal at a work session last Thursday.
Mr. Howard noted that the current fee structure is moderate compared to those in other towns. Both Southampton and East Hampton towns charge $750 for owner’s permits, $200 for vehicle permits and $100 for operator’s permits.
“It appears that the farther east you go, the more you get charged, basically, for all of your permits,” he said.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said that any fee increase should be justified by the amount of work involved in processing the permits.
“How much time does it take to process a renewal?” she asked Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm.
“Not a tremendous amount of time, but it’s a waiting period,” Ms. Wilhelm said, adding that the process involves multiple offices, including the town attorney’s office, police department and code enforcement.
Safety concerns about taxis and other vehicles for hire were also discussed. “It’s an appropriate question in light of what happened,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said, referencing a limousine crash in Schoharie, N.Y., that left 20 dead. The vehicle involved in the crash failed a recent inspection, according to media reports.
Ms. Wilhelm said that to issue permits, the town requires valid insurance, inspection, registration and vehicle information as well as medical clearance, fingerprints and photographs for drivers.
As an added safety measure, she said, operator’s permit renewals must include a letter from the town Justice Court to show that there are no outstanding tickets or violations against the driver.
Under Mr. Howard’s proposal, the fee schedule would increase to $700 for an owner’s permit, renewable annually at $350, and $200 for a vehicle permit, renewable for $100. Operator permits would remain at $100. “This [code] is going on seven years old,” Mr. Howard said, adding that it should be updated to reflect rates in neighboring municipalities.
Ms. Giglio expressed concern that the fee hike could lead to fare hikes, affecting seniors and other residents who rely on taxi services to get around.
“I think we need to figure to what it costs us to review one of these applications” and set the fees accordingly, she said.
Councilman Tim Hubbard asked if the proposal would address the proliferation of ride-sharing services like Uber that operate in Riverhead.
“If we’re going to rope in Uber and Lyft and the other ride-for-hire apps, my suggestion would be that we review the code and put some new definitions in,” Mr. Howard said, adding that the town taxi code requires things like decals and dome lighting.
“I don’t know if that’s practical, to be honest with you,” said Councilman Jim Wooten.
He used an example of someone using Uber to get from Queens to Riverhead, and the driver then picking up additional fares while in the area.
“It would be very difficult to track,” Mr. Hubbard said.
Before they agree to raise fees, Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith asked Mr. Howard to review the schedule with various departments to justify the increases.